At the cusp of a dark February evening, a North Shore state park is normally a quiet, serene place. But last night, Gooseberry Falls State Park was the absolute center of the universe for North Shore winter enthusiasts. It was the annual candlelight ski event, and the park was abuzz with activity.
This event has grown over the last 10 or 15 years to include more trails and more people and more fun. Dozens of volunteers set out real candles on five kilometers of ski trails. Campfires are lit and tended in remote corners of the park. This year, a Two Harbors High School jazz group filled the Visitor Center with dance-able tunes. There was a HUGE case of BIG cookies. And I was there to sign copies of Skiing the North Shore. It was the grooviest booksigning I've ever done.
The first sign for me that things were crazy was when I pulled into the parking lot...on a dark Saturday night...and could not even find a parking place. It was already overflow parking, like a fall colors weekend in winter's black and white.
Two loops had been lit. The Campground Loop runs right from the Visitor Center and down through the lower part of the park. A 1.6 km loop ran across the highway, across the river and up into the Center Fields area. Despite this winter's marginal lakeshore snow, the Campground Loop was in better shape, with decent ski tracks. The upper loop had been well used by snowshoers and the ski track had been demolished. Apparently, some park staff had told hikers to walk "in between" the ski trails, and that meant hikers were trying to walk on that narrow ridge between the right ski and the left...destroying the track.
I struggle with nighttime photography, especially since I don't use a tripod. I finally caught the light trail of a skier with a headlamp passing the Visitor Center, by resting my camera on a wooden post.
I talked with families from Duluth, a big pack of Rovers from the Twin Cities, and a couple from International Falls who had skied nearly every place I have and still wanted new ideas.
This is a great event and I was really glad to be part of it. Something about the jazz group and the big box of baked goods made the whole thing perfect. See you there next year!